Dr Naseem Ahmadpour is a lecturer in Interaction Design, at the School of Architecture, Design and planning, University of Sydney. Her research is interdisciplinary and broadly focused on design for health and wellbeing. Specifically, she explores opportunities for designing interactive devices and technologies that are motivating, fulfill psychological needs, and ultimately contribute to higher levels of subjective wellbeing. She investigates digital solutions that empower users and enable them to self-regulation their emotions and physical activity in everyday life or in the context of healthcare. We asked Naseem five quick questions.
Can you please tell us about a day in your life?
Typically, I spend a bit of time answering urgent emails in the morning, and then I try to use my morning time to catch up with writing my research papers, unless it is a Monday morning in which case I meet up with my colleagues at the Design Lab over coffee, to hear about interesting publications, or events/conferences my colleagues have been to. I might then head over to a meeting at the Charles Perkins Centre to discuss Virtual Reality (VR) technology trials we are running in collaboration with hospitals and cancer treatment centres. I might meet with a PhD student to discuss their research on tools that facilitate co-design of digital technologies that promote psychological wellbeing. Some days I will need to head over to Westmead precinct to meet with my clinical collaborators and discuss our research on designing digital technologies that help children at the hospital to self-regulate their emotional experiences. In the evenings, our school is buzzing with various events and I particularly like our Design @ Dusk seminar series where I can listen to short talks by technology and design enthusiasts from academia and industry. I have students and collaborators across multiple faculties and campuses, so my days are filled with great conversations either personally or virtually!
How do you define digital health?
I see digital health as a resource that affords us new opportunities for learning about ourselves, managing our wellbeing and seeking support when we need it. It’s about having the means to cultivate behaviours that contribute to our wellbeing and therefore enjoy a better quality of life. New technologies such as wearables, or virtual reality are becoming increasingly accessible, but the key to successful implementation of digital health is making a lasting impact on individuals by creating solutions that fit into our context of life and fulfill our needs, be it physical, psychological or social. For instance, activity trackers have seen an incredible rise in popularity in recent years but research has shown that over 30% of users abandon their devices within six months of use, as they are mostly interested in learning about their health while the information they receive is often quantified and not contextualised enough to inspire a meaningful reflection on health. This type of problem can be resolved through better integration of the needs, goals, values and motivations of the people who will use the technology into designing it.
What do you think will enable digital health projects and innovations to succeed?
For me, digital health is ultimately about human-centred design whereby technology is developed based on conceptual and empirical evidence, in addition to technical requirements. In my view, effective and efficient digital health solutions are important but those would not be successfully adopted unless we consider delivering engaging, motivating and meaningful experiences to users, in a way that encompasses their psychological, physical, socio-economic needs. In the healthcare domain, this includes the needs of various stakeholders such as patients, their carer, the health professionals as well as the service providers. That is what drives my research in digital health projects.
Have you come across any surprises or challenges along the way?
I am currently leading a number of projects that examine the potentials of Virtual Reality (VR) for health and wellbeing. This is a growing field of innovation, as VR technology is exciting, new, mystifying and constantly evolving. I would like to be optimistic and think VR will address some of the more difficult issues we had to resolve in healthcare, such as managing pain and phobias. There is good evidence to suggest those issues may be addressed with non-pharmacological interventions such as VR, but we still don’t know much about the mechanisms through which we can make positive impacts on patients, the ethical ramifications of transporting patients (particularly younger ones) to a virtual world, and the implications of systematic integration of VR interventions across healthcare sectors. I am intrigued by those challenges in my research and continue to be surprised by some of my findings.
Do you have any interesting resources or helpful networks people should know about?
Networks such as Digital Health and Informatics Network (DHIN) are excellent examples of best practices in digital health that involve collaborative work between academics, industry, and policy makers. I am impressed by the diversity of the projects I have seen, that span across the spectrum of digital health, ranging from healthcare delivery to supporting wellness.
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A very big thank you to Naseem for being our September profile.